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MRI-Friendly Spinal Stimulator: January 7, 2014

For patients suffering from intense back pain that isn’t helped by other treatments, doctors are increasingly using advanced technology to zap the pain.

“We’re finding that neural stimulation or spinal stimulation seems to be accelerating up the treatment tree so to speak - to control pain as opposed to sending them for more and more surgeries more and more medications and more injections,” says Dr. Gene Mahaney, pain management specialist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Doctors implant a pacemaker-sized device outside the spinal cord; from there tiny leads send electrical pulses to block pain signals to the brain.

These devices have been used for decades, with one drawback.

“We’re seeing more and more of our patients coming to us with some type of implantable electronic device,” says Dr. Cory Duffek, neuroradiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

As many as 70% of patients who have an implanted device will need an MRI scan in the future, and many of these devices are incompatible.

“If for some reason ten years down the line they come in with a stroke and they need an MRI, they can’t have an MRI. We have to use alternative imaging modalities in order to answer those same clinical questions. And it’s not as easy,” says Dr. Duffek.

Surgically removing the device was an option - an expensive and invasive one, until now. The FDA recently approved the first MRI-friendly spinal stimulator.

“We’re very excited because there are several hundreds of patients locally that are now considered candidates for spinal cord stimulation that would not have been so before the new MRI compatible devices,” says Dr. Mahaney.

Now in addition to pain relief, patients can get peace of mind, knowing they are free to get any exam they need.

“We have had several patients who underwent MRIs successfully afterwards. It hasn’t restricted their treatment or imaging options,” says Dr. Mahaney.